Half of older people living in fuel poverty #MakeItStop

A cold pensioner.
A cold pensioner.

Half of Calderdale’s older people are living in fuel poverty, figures have revealed.

Thousands of men and women are at risk and will be forced to choose between heating or eating, and even living, this winter.

In the last Census, 32,400 men and women aged over 65 were recorded as living in the region with 16,200 of these classed as living in ‘fuel poverty’ - where a home’s “sufficient” fuel cost is more than ten per cent of its household income.

With the customer feeling the increasing cost of energy bills and harsher winters, it is likely these figures have risen since the 2011 Census.

We are facing an energy bill crisis, with thousands of Calderdale pensioners struggling to heat their homes, reports Calderdale’s Community Foundation.

One of the main causes is that the UK’s homes are some of the least energy efficient in Europe – leaking heat from their doors, walls and windows. As a result energy bills are high and fuel poverty is rising.

On average 25,000 people die as a result of cold weather conditions each year in the UK and at least a third of these deaths are due to living in cold homes.

In winter 2012/13, 130 “excess winter deaths” were recorded in Calderdale - with the majority of these deaths amongst pensioners. This figure reveals a year-on-year rise of 22 per cent.

March 2013 was the coldest winter recorded since 1962 with an average monthly temperature of just 2.6 degrees c.

A harsh winter has a physical impact on the health of older people as their resilience to respiratory problems is lower in the colder months which can also increase a person’s blood pressure. These factors can contribute to increased deaths due to circulatory problems including coronary thrombosis.

The detrimental effects of winter on older people is not limited to their physical health. During the colder months, older people tend to spend more time in the home and therefore are increasingly likely to feel isolated and become depressed.

Calderdale Council’s director of public health, Paul Butcher, said: “Living in a cold home is known to have a negative effect on physical and mental health, especially for people with long-term health conditions that are made worse by the cold. Older people are at greater risk because they generally spend more time at home, tend to be less physically active and are more susceptible to the effects of the cold. Living in a cold home affects blood circulation and can lead to stiffness, trips and falls. In the very worst case, extreme cold can lead to temporary narrowing of the arteries and potentially cause further life threatening conditions.”

As part of the #MakeItStop Courier and Community Foundation for Calderdale campaign to empower older people, the foundation is targeting £25,000 to tackling the the growing social epidemic of isolation, loneliness, fuel poverty and health and social issues.

With older householders being particularly vulnerable to the effects of fuel poverty the CFFC is working with local charities including Halifax’s Age UK.

Age UK’s Safe and Warm project offers support to the over 50s by making life more comfortable in the home by supporting people with grants for insulations and improved heating. The charity also offers cost effective advice for saving money on energy bills.

CFFC has announced it will match fund all of your donations, including gift aid - no matter how large or small from the initial £25,000 funding, with the hope of making the money grow through a community fundraising effort.

During the winter months, older people spend the most amount of time indoors and therefore face increasing winter fuel bills.

Steve Duncan, CEO of the Community Foundation, said: “We don’t want to see another 130 people lose their lives to the cold this winter, but we need your help, with more funds we can do more to help. Every penny raised in Calderdale will stay in Calderdale and help our community.

“Every penny will be spent helping the most vulnerable. Donations will be used in a variety of ways including: helping pay fuel bills; insulating homes; providing hot meals; supporting day centres; providing blankets and much more. I hope Calderdale folk will dig deep to help address loneliness and reduce the winter mortality rate with older people in our communities.

“If you would like to help us save lives in Calderdale please donate via localgiving.com/CFFC where all donations will be matched by us.”

Calderdale Council’s head of housing, environment and renewal, Mark Thompson, said: “Rising energy costs and low levels of energy efficiency mean that many older residents under-heat their homes and face difficult choices on how they spend their household budget.

“The Council’s Housing Energy Action Team can help people make their homes warmer and cheaper to heat through its Safe and Warm Project. This includes advice on heating and insulation and access to an energy company subsidy towards the cost of any work, where this is available. We encourage all older residents to check their entitlement for any benefit income, pension credit or attendance allowance which may help them to heat their homes more affordably.

“Residents should also contact their electricity supplier to check whether they qualify for the Warm Homes Discount scheme, which could provide a £140 rebate on their electricity tariff, and also consider shopping around to see if they could get a better deal on their energy costs.”

Email heat@calderdale.gov.uk or call 01422 392479 to find out more about the help available.